Pontiac Village and City 1840s


1842 J. G. Crombie
no date John Clark, Dr. Chipman, Mr. Spalding, C. C. Hascall


PONTIAC THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO. A correspondent, signing himself "Clinton," writes to the Jacksonian as follows, under date of November 10, 1843:

"Pontiac is now, and in all human probability must ever be, the focal-point and depot of a large and extremely productive agricultural district. As such it requires more than the natural channels of egress for immense quantities of agricultural products, which must annually increase -as the lands at present unoccupied become subject to cultivation. An extraordinary artificial channel, admirably adapted to the purpose, is supplied by the railroad, now almost hourly traversed by long trains of cars, groaning under their burdens of wheat, flour, and other merchantable productions of the soil, impelled by the laboring engines with safety, certainty, and speed towards a distant but certain market.

"There are two important facts clearly demonstrated: first, that Pontiac is a central point towards which enormous quantities of the staple productions of the State are driven by what may, without much hyperbole, be called a centripetal force; second, that she is brought, as it were, to the very thresholds of the great eastern markets by one of those admirable efforts of human ingenuity, --the railroad. Thus circumstanced, with a canal to the Grand river in the perspective, it must be plain to a mere superficial observer that your place, in the rapid and inevitable development of the future, must become not only one of the greatest, but in reality the greatest inland CITY in Michigan. Property in the village has risen beyond the expectations of the most sanguine, and farming lands within a circumference of several miles are greatly enhanced in value; and it is chiefly owing to the facilities afforded by your village for the safe and rapid transportation of the superabundant produce, which will always of necessity have an eastward tendency. That the railroad has greatly benefited Pontiac and the surrounding country for many miles there can be no doubt. Let it not it be forgotten, then, that to the enterprise, persevering energy, and untiring industry of a citizen of Pontiac these gratifying results are mainly to be attributed."

This matter was agitated for years, and similar action taken by the council, but it does not appear of record that either of the dams were removed. As late as the year 1840, it appears that the channel of the Clinton river was badly obstructed with dead and fallen timber and brush, and we find the council, in September of that year, ordering the same cleared out, from H. N. Howard's dam to the "yellow mill," the job to be let to the lowest bidder. The work, however, seems to have "hung fire," for in June, 1841, petitions were circulated and presented to the council, praying that the Clinton river and Pontiac creek might be cleared of rubbish, and the marshal was instructed to remove dead carcasses from the river, at fifty cents each.

A low-water mark was established on the mill-dams, below which the millowners were not permitted to draw the water under penalty.

The job of clearing the timber, etc., from the river, above Saginaw street, was finally let to F. D. Preston and Jacob Hendrickson, at fifty dollars. During the summer of 1841 bridges were built over the mill-pond at Pike street, and one below, and Saginaw street was surveyed and a grade established on both sides of the river by H. J. Goodale.

The public printing for 1840 and 1841 was done at the office of the Jacksonian.

VILLAGE PLAT. A plat of the village was made in October, 1841, by H. J. Goodale, for which the council allowed him eighty-six dollars. It must have been a very fine one.

FIRST CONSTABLE. The first constable for the village which we find on record was Richard P. Frederick.

A NEW DEPARTURE. The annual election of officers was held in May, 1842, under the amended charter, which changed the corporation title from " president and trustees" to " common council," and allowed the people to elect a president, three trustees, a recorder, and marshal. The treasurer was appointed by the council. The bonds of the treasurer and marshal were fixed for 1842 at two thousand dollars each. R. Hosmer, Esq., was employed to draft a new code of by-laws.

The bridges ordered in 1841 were completed during this season, the Pike street bridge by Job Irons, at a cost of one hundred and forty-nine dollars, and the one over Pontiac creek, on Clinton street, at thirty-six dollars and fifty cents.

The village was divided into four road districts, with W. M. McConnell, O. Oatman, Francis Darrow, and Seth Beach as commissioners.

RAILROAD. In 1842 the Pontiac and Detroit railroad was approaching the place, and the question of right of way began to be discussed. In June a petition, signed by Schuyler Hodges and others, praying that the right of way be granted for running a railway track along Saginaw street, was presented, and after due consideration granted.

STREETS OPENED. Pike, Warren, and Lawrence streets were extended and worked during 1842.

BOWLING-ALLEYS. In November, 1842 the ordinance authorizing and regulating bowling alleys was repealed.

REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION. At a special meeting of the electors on the 16th of May, 1843, the ultima thule of republican ideas was reached by a resolution that no tax should be raised for the purpose of keeping streets and bridges in repair.

If that sort of legislation could only be extended throughout every department of the Republic, it would be the cheapest system of government under the canopy; but unfortunately the idea was exploded the following year, when the people found it necessary to raise a double amount, to wit: one thousand dollars, and a poll-tax of one dollar per head.

No license was granted to sell intoxicating liquors in 1843.

January 22, 1844, a panorama entitled the "Conflagration of Moscow" was exhibited in Pontiac.

The legislation of 1843 was reversed in 1844, and a heavy assessment fixed upon property for repairs of roads and bridges; and license was granted to sell liquors, at ten dollars each, to nine persons in the village.

Circuses seem to have been plenty in 1844, for we find June & Turner exhibiting on the 7th of September, and the North American Circus on the 12th of the same month.

In 1847 the liquor traffic seems to have been quite lucrative, as we find a list of seventeen persons licensed, at from ten to twenty dollars each, to retail the same.

A tavern known as "Pontiac Place" was kept by E. W. Lawrence in 1840. It was situated near the bridge, on Saginaw street. Baldwin D. Coonley kept it the following year.

DAILY MAIL. The first daily mail between Detroit and Pontiac, according to the Jacksonian, was established in March, 1841, through the efforts of Thomas Chew, the mail contractor.

CASUALTY. On the 4th of March, 1841, the Whigs celebrated the inauguration of President Harrison by firing of guns and other characteristic demonstrations. During the firing, Aaron Seeley was badly injured by a premature explosion. As a matter of comparison between the speed with which news was conveyed then and now, it may be stated that it required twelve days to transmit the news of the death of President Harrison from Washington to Pontiac.

A CONVENTION of farmers was held at the court-house in Pontiac on the 19th of August, 1841, to take into consideration the condition of the finances of the country, and to devise ways and means whereby the farming community could escape the losses and troubles consequent upon the issue of a "shinplaster" currency. The call was signed by fifty-six farmers.

At the charter election of 1842, the Courier (Whig) claimed a great victory upon the "tariff" question, but the Jacksonian (Democratic) emphatically denied that "tariff" had anything to do with the result.

CELEBRATIONS. There were two notable demonstrations during 1842 in Pontiac,--the Masonic celebration of St. John's day, June 24, and the Sabbath-school celebration of national independence on the "glorious Fourth." Francis Darrow was president of the latter, G. 0. Whittemore alternate, and William Barbour marshal.

MAILS. It is a singular fact that, by some curious and unexplained arrangement, Pontiac had a mail only three times per week from Detroit, while at the same time it was in daily communication with Flint and Shiawassee.

MENAGERIE, ETC. On the 30th of July, 1842, June, Titus, Angevine & Co.'s circus and menagerie exhibited, in all its pristine splendor, to the wonder and admiration of the Pon-ti-ack-ers. Among other rare and wonderful animals was a living giraffe, seventeen feet in height, and weighing seventeen hundred and eighty pounds.

SUN PICTURES. The first appearance of the famous daguerreotypes in Pontiac was in October, 1843, when a Mr. Proctor advertised the presence of the new art through the columns of the Jacksonian. About the same time, Mr. A. Goodell announced that he had taken rooms at the Hodges House, where he was prepared to furnish portraits in the highest style of the art to all in want of them.


Source:  History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.

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